Breasts. Part of a woman’s anatomy that differentiates her from a man. Sometimes called a source of empowerment and beauty, they are glorified by men and women alike. They provide a source of nutrients for our children and to be perfectly honest, sometimes they are down right cumbersome. But what happens when a woman no longer has her breasts? When they are taken from her because they become a source of danger in her own body. Breast cancer is a reality for many women. According to the CDC 210,203 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,589 women in the United States died from breast cancer in 2008. Jodi Jaecks is one of these women. She made the incredibly tough decision to undergo a double mastectomy to keep the cancer from spreading.
As part of her healing process she decided to try to stay healthy and active by swimming. The only problem was that all the swimsuits she tried on were too painful on her healing scars. So she decided to go topless to the public pool instead. After all she no longer had breasts. She no longer had anything to cover up. Despite all of this though, the management still told her she needed to cover up. She was specifically told that she needed to be wearing “gender appropriate clothing.”
There are several things that I would like to bring up about this story. The first is the idea of gender appropriate clothing. The concept of gender is completely made up. It is a socially constructed idea that dictates what “normal” should look like for men and women. It only allows for men and women, he and she, his and hers. It totally disregards individuals who do not fall into either category. Either because they feel like they were born into the wrong bodies or because their bodies have both genitalia. The idea here of gender appropriate clothing then is that women wear women’s clothes and men wear men’s clothes. Women cover their chests and men don’t. Period.
This leads me into the next issue. What if you have a “non-traditional” woman, like Jodi Jaecks, who no longer has breasts? In her words, how is her chest different from that of a man’s at this point. She has already had a source of her female identity physically removed and yet they are attempting to force her back into a mold she no longer fits. It is not even by her own choice. It was completely out of her control that she got breast cancer. It leaves me to wonder if it was the fact that she no longer fits into a “normal” category, if that is why she is meeting resistance. Breasts are central to who a woman is, they make a woman feel womanly, and they allow others to recognize her as a woman. Without them she disrupts the “normal” in a similar way that people with a physical disability do. They make others uncomfortable because people are not sure how to treat them. Scars disturb people. Ms. Jaecks now has scars where her breasts used to be. I honestly wonder if this is part of what it is about. She is now viewed as deformed in some way. She is no longer “perfect” and society can’t handle it. She is now different.
As someone whose family has been personally affected by breast cancer I want to say that if part of her healing process (physically and/or emotionally) involves swimming topless then more power to her. It is a part of accepting her new life. One without breasts.